Tag Archives: bigotry

Yes, It’s Disheartening. But It’s True.

We’re getting used to seeing headlines like this recent one in the Washington Post: “Hate in America is On the Rise.” According to the lede,

A NEW FBI report on hate crimes tells a sobering story. For the second year in a row, police departments across the country reported a rise in the number of crimes motivated by bias.

A statistical breakdown suggests that nearly 60  percent of these crimes were motivated by racial bias, with African Americans targeted in about half of those.  Over 20 percent were expressions of religious animosity; more than half of those attacks were aimed at Jews, with another quarter targeting Muslims. (There has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and people of Arab descent.)

Sociologists and psychiatrists can offer informed analyses of the social conditions that cause people harboring bigoted attitudes to “act out.” But it isn’t much of a stretch to attribute a significant portion of this troubling spike in hate crimes to a President who traffics in racial and religious stereotypes.

In fact, Trump’s victory poses a chicken-and-egg conundrum: did rising tribalism and bigotry lead to his election? Or did he win by nurturing and exploiting that bigotry?

The answer, of course, is both.

In the Atlantic, Adam Serwer has provided a compelling analysis of the essential nature of Trump’s appeal. He began that analysis by revisiting David Duke’s gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana. Then, as now, the Chattering Classes attributed Duke’s appeal to economic “distress.” Then–as now–the data simply didn’t support that explanation.

Duke’s strong showing, however, wasn’t powered merely by poor or working-class whites—and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke “clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke’s popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had “one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession,” The Post stated.

Duke’s position as a leader of the KKK was explained away by Louisiana voters, who blamed the media for “making Duke seem racist.”

The economic explanation carried the day: Duke was a freak creature of the bayou who had managed to tap into the frustrations of a struggling sector of the Louisiana electorate with an abnormally high tolerance for racist messaging.

Right.

Fast forward to 2016, and the Trump campaign. As Serwer writes

During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate’s remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans—those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue—had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs—combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.

It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of. (emphasis mine)

Serwer notes the “specific dissonance” of Trumpism—people advocating for cruelly discriminatory policies while denying–undoubtedly even to themselves–that there is any racial animus involved. He concludes that without the racism of so substantial a number of white voters, Trump simply could not have won.

This  conclusion is supported by virtually all of the data that has emerged since the election.

Serwer also answers a question that has consumed people of good will, as they watch the escalating disaster that is the Trump Administration: when will his supporters realize how destructive his Presidency is? Why hasn’t his abandonment of virtually all of his campaign promises awakened them?

Answer: because the promises he’s kept are the ones that matter to them.

..his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries; the unleashing of immigration-enforcement agencies against anyone in the country illegally regardless of whether he poses a danger; an attempt to cut legal immigration in half; and an abdication of the Justice Department’s constitutional responsibility to protect black Americans from corrupt or abusive police, discriminatory financial practices, and voter suppression. In his own stumbling manner, Trump has pursued the race-based agenda promoted during his campaign.

Serwer’s conclusion? So long as Trump promotes the social and political hegemony of white Christians, his supporters won’t abandon him.

There is much more in the article, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

Blood Libel Redux

The term “blood libel” was coined to describe a centuries-old false allegation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood in the baking of Passover matzo (unleavened bread). Blood libels were invented and used to inflame hatred of Jews, and often led to mob violence and pogroms, many of which decimated entire Jewish communities.

Blood libels are a tactic beloved by–but not limited to–anti-Semites. If you want to arouse public passions against any group you detest, such libels–updated for use in a (slightly) more  advanced age– remain useful mechanisms. (Think of all those accusations about black men “deflowering” Southern white women.)

It’s just so easy in the age of the Internet. Find an accusation you like, or a “fact” you can use to support the argument you want to make, and just cut, paste and forward.

And as Ed Brayton documents, elected officials aren’t above employing these tactics.

Kris Kobach, a first-class bigot and liar who chairs Trump’s voter fraud commission, also writes a column for Breitbart.com. Well, he kinda writes it. What he actually does, as Media Matters documents, is cut and paste from chain emails and racists to justify lying about immigrants and crime.
Brayton quotes from Kobach’s recent column, in which he claims that 75 percent of the people on most wanted lists in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Albuquerque are illegal aliens, and that 53 percent of burglaries investigated in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are committed by illegal aliens.
Kobach cites two sources for these claims: one is the INS/FBI Statistical Report on Undocumented Immigrants.” and the other is from a piece by “Peter B. Gemma” for the ConstitutionParty.com. The INS ceased to exist in 2003, after the Department of Homeland Security was created, and Gemma is known as a racist who has worked for the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens and has been a “part of the American Holocaust denial movement.”
Other manifestations of this sort of targeted dishonesty are less blatant, but they still serve bigotries aimed at disfavored groups. The Gainesville Times recently referred to one of them as “zombies that won’t die.”

A staple of horror movies popular around Halloween is the ubiquitous “monster that won’t die.” Be they zombies, Dracula, Freddy Krueger, killers in hockey masks or Godzilla, the demons of our imagination never succumb to mortal fate, as least as long as another sequel is in the offing.

Sometimes, bad ideas by politicians stalk the innocent wearing the same ghoulish pallor of the undead, springing back to life whenever we think the coast is clear. One such Walking Dead issue is a religious liberty proposal that some think we can’t live with and others believe we can’t live without, and waits in the bushes for another victim.

The Georgia legislature passed such a law in 2016, stating no individual or business would be forced to cater to the needs of others if doing so clashed with their religious beliefs. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it, much to the chagrin of social conservatives, over fears it would make the state appear unwelcoming to other views and lifestyles, which could deter companies from locating operations and jobs here.

The editorial went on to point out that–contrary to the “zombie” arguments–Americans remain remarkably free to practice their preferred religions, no matter how incensed some may get over “Happy Holidays” greetings and the existence of laws protecting the rights of other people to their beliefs.

LGBTQ citizens aren’t attacking Christianity. (Actually, as my friends in the clergy have pointed out, pseudo “Christians” are doing a great job of that themselves…) Black men aren’t deflowering white women (okay, so maybe Bill Cosby–but so are Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.) Jews aren’t using the blood of Christian children to make matzo. (If you’ve ever eaten matzo, you’d know it couldn’t contain  liquid of any kind or it wouldn’t be so constipating…)

A central premise of the American legal system is that we treat citizens as individuals, not as members of a group. People who embrace blood libels aren’t just bigots, and they aren’t just ludicrously wrong. They’re unAmerican.

And that most definitely includes Kris Kobach.

 

 

Trump, Moore And The “Grand Old Party”

Yesterday’s post dealt with Roy Moore’s decisive, ten-point victory over Luther Strange in this week’s Alabama GOP primary. Moore won although Strange had the (mostly) full-throated support of Donald Trump.

Moore’s win suggests that– although Trump’s election may have “unleashed” the party’s rabid base– “the Donald” cannot control it.

The GOP’s Congressional leadership is similarly unable to control the members of what has been called the “lunatic caucus”–Representatives sent to Washington from deep-red gerrymandered districts controlled by that same base.

It’s hard for many of us to wrap our heads around the reality of today’s Republican Party. For those of us who once worked for a very different GOP, the current iteration is nothing short of tragic. All political parties have their fringe crazies–the Democrats are certainly not immune–but in the GOP, the crazies have taken control; sane, moderate, fiscally prudent and socially tolerant Republicans have retreated or departed– or been ejected to taunts of “RINO.”

The number of American voters who identify as Republicans has diminished–in 2016, Gallup put it at 26%– but most of those who remain are dramatically different from even their most conservative antecedents. To the extent they have actual policy preferences, rather than the free-floating animus and overt racism that found its champion in Trump, those preferences are represented by Moore and his ilk.

Roy Moore embodies what the majority of today’s GOP–its most reliable voters, its “base”–support. And that reality is absolutely terrifying, not just because our democratic system requires two sane, adult parties in order to function, but because Moore’s beliefs aren’t just the ravings of a lunatic (although they certainly are that), they’re incompatible with every principle of the American Constitution and legal system.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Before the primary election, The Daily Beast dug out statements Moore has made over the years. During a speech he gave to a fundamentalist Christian political organization, Operation Save America, he said

“I’m sorry but this country was not founded on Muhammad. It was not founded on Buddha. It was not founded on secular humanism. It was founded on God,” he said according to reports by AL.com.

He has frequently charged that Islam is a “false religion” that goes “against the American way of life.”

“[Islam is] a faith that conflicts with the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Moore said during a 2007 radio interview with Michelangelo Signorile, “The Constitution and Declaration of Independence has a direct reference to the Holy Scriptures.”

His homophobia is notorious. In a custody decision, he wrote that homosexuality is  “an inherent evil against which children must be protected.”

CNN also uncovered a 2005 interview between Moore and Bill Press during C-SPAN2’s After Words where he compared homosexuality to bestiality.

“Just because it’s done behind closed doors, it can still be prohibited by state law. Do you know that bestiality, the relationship between man and beast is prohibited in every state?” Moore told Press. When asked if Moore was comparing homosexuality to bestiality, he replied, “It’s the same thing.”

Moore rejects evolution. He attributes the 9/11 attacks to “God’s retribution” for our national “immorality,” and insists (against all historical evidence and the text of the Constitution) that the Founders established America as a “Christian Nation.”

These and similar sentiments–including a deep commitment to White Supremacy– are the banners under which today’s Republicans march. The GOP is now the party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore and Mike Pence–proud racists dismissive of history, ignorant of science and political philosophy, disinterested in actual governance, and obsessed with their own self-importance.

This is what is left of a once Grand Old Party.

Abraham Lincoln weeps.

Dreaming…

From Reuters (as well as a number of other media outlets) we learn that

President Donald Trump is expected to rescind an Obama administration policy that protects from deportation nearly 800,000 immigrants who as children entered the country illegally, setting the stage for a fight with U.S. business leaders and lawmakers over tough immigration policy.

The article goes on to detail the negative response of the business community to the proposed action, and economists’ prediction that such a move would hurt economic growth and depress tax revenues.

Leave aside the economic consequences. Trump’s willingness to inflict immense human misery is what’s truly appalling. This would be the most immoral action taken thus far by a profoundly immoral administration.

The targets of this move are not criminals. They aren’t even immigration scofflaws; they didn’t choose to come to the United States illegally. They were children. They were brought here by their parents. Most of them have never known another home; significant numbers speak only English. They are productive citizens, small businesspeople and dependable employees, whose value to their communities has been amply documented. Why on earth would Trump want to deport them?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Reuters tells us that the overwhelming majority of the Dreamer immigrants came from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Most are brown, and brown and black people are  by definition un-American “others” to the White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and other assorted bigots who are Trump’s core supporters.

Trump’s utter lack of human empathy has been obvious for a long time; it was prominently on display during his trip to Houston. So it is pointless to expect him to understand or care about the wrenching reality of his proposed order.

Vox has focused on that reality.

Hundreds of thousands of families in the US are anxiously awaiting a decision from President Donald Trump that could change the course of their lives. Will they lose their jobs? Will they have to drop out of college? Will immigration agents knock on their doors to kick them out of the country they consider home? And what will happen to their American kids if they have to leave?…

In the five years since DACA went into effect, thousands of undocumented immigrants have been able to go to college, get driver’s licenses and get jobs and pay taxes for the first time. Many now have their own children, who are American citizens. Parents with DACA are wrestling with the question of what to tell their children, and whether it would be best to leave them in the United States or take them away if they are forced to leave.

When comprehensive immigration reform once again failed to pass Congress, Obama addressed the situation of the so-called “Dreamers” with an executive order creating DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It allowed a defined subset of young undocumented immigrants to get temporary Social Security numbers and deportation protection. They had to pass criminal background checks, pay taxes, and renew their DACA status every two years. The program was a temporary fix, but during the campaign, Clinton vowed to maintain it.

Trump, of course, made anti-immigrant rhetoric the centerpiece of a campaign that pandered, bigly, to rightwing bigotries.

It is heartbreaking to read the comments of DACA recipients interviewed in the Vox article. These are good people who are in an untenable situation because for years, Congress has consistently failed to pass an immigration bill. Most recently, rather than give President Obama a political “win,” the GOP simply blocked efforts to negotiate a legislative solution to a problem everyone recognized.

Now we have a President whose terrifying ignorance of government is matched only by his inability to think of anyone but himself. If Congress cannot be moved to action by the plight of 800,000 innocent DACA immigrants, there’s no reason to believe they will ever summon the moral courage to defy this bigot-in-chief.

This is a test, and I’m very much afraid America will fail it.

As a current Internet meme puts it: It’s no longer about whether Trump has any decency. It’s about whether we do.

While Our Neros Fiddle…

In his Phoenix rally, Donald Trump doubled down on his appeal to racism–both through a self-serving (and inaccurate) defense of his remarks after Charlottesville and in a coy reference to a potential pardon for notorious Arizona racist Joe Arpaio. It was red meat for his supporters.

The question is: who are those supporters?

I have previously expressed my belief that Trump’s election owed much more to racial resentment than to economic distress. But I do understand the connections between cultural and economic anxiety.

It is true that Trump voters on average were better-off financially than Clinton voters (and it is also true, and worth repeating, that there were three million more of the latter than the former), but as sociologists will confirm, economic anxiety is not the same thing as economic deprivation. And multiple studies confirm that anxiety and insecurity trigger bigotries and other behaviors that are suppressed in less tumultuous times.

A recent Economist article describes an academic inquiry that illustrates the connection:

LAST year over 102,000 people died in nearly 50 armed conflicts across the world, according to the Peace Research Institute Oslo, a think-tank. Much of this violence is caused by tensions between ethnic groups—two-thirds of civil wars have been fought along ethnic lines since 1946. Yet historians differ over whether cultural differences or economic pressures best explain how tensions explode into violence.

A new study by Robert Warren Anderson, Noel Johnson and Mark Koyama suggests that, historically, economic shocks were more strongly associated with outbreaks of violence directed against Jews than scholars had previously thought.

The research cited an intriguing example: some 57% of people living in medieval England relied on farming, and a decline in average temperatures of only a third of a degree increased the probability of a pogrom or expulsion by 50% over the next five years. In other words, incidence of violence against Jews weren’t caused by religiously-motivated anti-Semitism. That animus was undeniably– and constantly– present, but its eruptions were triggered by social and economic ills.

Echoes of these patterns are discernible today. Many economists have linked the weather—particularly droughts and heatwaves in agricultural economies—to outbreaks of intercommunal violence in developing countries. Another paper published last year, by Carl-Friedrich Schleussner and his colleagues, found that between 1980 and 2010 23% of civil wars coincided with climate-related disasters in countries with deep ethnic divides. Global warming may worsen this problem further. The lesson of history is that better political institutions can help soothe tensions.

If better political institutions can soothe tensions, it stands to reason that worse political environments can encourage them.

The emergence of the so-called “alt-right” (and no, Mr. Trump, there really isn’t such a thing as an “alt-left”) is widely attributed to Trump’s barely-veiled encouragement of racism and other forms of bigotry, the expression of which was preceded by the years of GOP “dog whistles” that have become one of the party’s routine political tools in the wake of Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

The success of that strategy required both pre-existing bigotry–mostly latent, but undeniably potent–and an increase in appeals to social and/or economic anxiety.

Social anxiety in an age of constant and accelerating change is a given. There isn’t much lawmakers can do about that. But they can ameliorate economic insecurity. Legislators can strengthen America’s porous and inadequate social safety net; they can expand access to healthcare; they can make the tax code simpler and fairer; they can raise the minimum wage; they can fashion rules to ensure that the water in our cities remains lead-free and drinkable and the air breathable (and they can require Scott Pruitt’s EPA to abide by those rules).

In short, lawmakers can remove a significant number of the uncertainties that feed economic anxiety. They can also act responsibly and constitutionally, sending a reassuring signal that America’s institutions are functioning properly. None of that, however, is happening.

Nero is said to have fiddled while Rome burned. Congress could give him lessons.